It’s Tuesday afternoon, and Tim and I are taking our CSA box back to the car, a heavy bushel filled with watermelon, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers and yellow squash. Our usual routine has been to unload this share at home, turning some into dinner with a simple salad or something roasted, storing the rest of it away on the counter or the fridge to be cooked and eaten as the week goes on. But today, instead of setting things aside, I’m cooking it—all of it—one thing after another, often in the same liquids or roasting juices of the previous pan. With two months left on our CSA, I’ve been reading Tamar Adler’s book, “An Everlasting Meal,” and, as most home cooks who’ve read it would tell you, the way I use vegetables—actually the way I use almost everything in my kitchen—will never be the same.
I first heard of Tamar Adler, and her book, in May, through an email from my friend Kendra. In the midst of what she called a “life-changing book,” Kendra was writing from her kitchen, where she’d just boiled vegetables, one right after another, in the same big pot, then layered them with leftover rice and roasted pork that “sent [her] through the roof in euphoria.” All the scraps went right back into the same water, boiling steadily for about an hour, after which she took a sip so good, tears came to her eyes. I didn’t know much about Tamar Adler back then, hadn’t read the New Yorker article she would later write about Julia Child, hadn’t caught when people like Tara from Tea & Cookies or Tracy from Shutterbean were talking about how wonderful she was. All I knew, in May, reading a note from a friend, was that Tamar Adler’s way of using vegetables was so mind-blowing and beautiful that it could evoke tears of joy—and so I promptly clicked over to the Nashville Public Library system, became #54 or so in line and, waited.
I started reading “An Everlasting Meal” less than two weeks ago, just before we went away for my birthday. I continued reading it on the seven-and-a-half-hour drive down, the three-hour drives to and from Louisiana, the seven-and-a-half-turned-nine-hour drive home. Hearing Tamar’s advice is like talking to a woman who’s been cooking a long lifetime, filled with wit and wisdom gained from years of trying different techniques. She reminds me of my grandma, who knew foods so well, she didn’t have to consult recipes; and of Tim, who’s wowed me since we met with his ability to make a restaurant-worthy dinner when we have nothing in the fridge.
Tuesday in the kitchen, the outside light growing dim, once all my vegetables are washed and drying on a towel on our counter, I push trays of salted, chopped, oiled eggplant in the oven, alongside rounds of potatoes. A pot goes on the stove to boil water for tomatoes, which get cored and skored with x’s on the bottom, plopped into water for eight seconds so their skins peel right off. Then into the same water go six or seven large potatoes, which I’ll eventually throw in the fridge to have when I need them (which turns out to be two days later, when I’m in a rush to a friend’s house for dinner and Tim and I throw together a potato salad).
Then, in my largest, deepest skillet, I warm minced garlic in olive oil and butter, adding half a green pepper, chopped. Next goes all the diced eggplant that wouldn’t fit on my baking sheet to roast and some leftover chicken broth I poached eggs in that morning. I chop the three boiled tomatoes and add them next. Last are fingerling potatoes, diced smaller than I’ve ever diced them, so they’ll soften fully and well.
Tim’s been gone this whole time, at a work meeting, and when he arrives home two hours later, he steps into the kitchen with a smile on his face. “Something smells good!” is how he greets me, and after he helps me clean up, after we salt and pepper the vegetables, then salt them again for taste, we dine on leftover roasted chicken topped with our slow-cooked vegetable hash, the fridge now packed with glass tupperware and mason jars filled with roasted eggplant and potatoes and green peppers and radishes and tomatoes—all of which will contribute to quick meals for the next few days.
Sitting across from him at the table, we take a few pictures in the chandelier light, join hands and shake our heads. This rustic spread before us, the combined byproduct of chicken broth (which I made from roasted chicken bones yesterday) and today’s CSA vegetables and a few hours of time, is, without question, one of the best meals we’ve enjoyed all week.
(And there’s more!) Once we’ve eaten our fill, the leftovers go into a mason jar in the fridge, providing us an intensely flavored mixture of vegetables now marinating in their own sauce, ideal for blending or eating again with pasta later on. All of the odds and ends from chopping didn’t go into the trash but were saved in a pile to add to the water once the potatoes finish boiling. We cook them for hours until they’ve created a dark, rich, mineral-heavy vegetable broth now stored in our freezer.
The subtitle of “An Everlasting Meal” is cooking with economy and grace—and, right now, looking at our plates at dinner, the fridge stuffed with ready vegetables, stock boiling long on the stove, I want to cry with Kendra at how good and right and practical this all is.
Tamar Adler, reading your book has been the best kind of cooking school, such an education and a gift. I will be reading it for months and years to come. Thank you.
*And the magic continues:
To buy Tamar Adler’s book (which I just ordered despite my library borrow because this is a book to have on hand), click here.
To create a similar dinner, you need less of a recipe and more of a willingness to try: the keys are long, slow cooking; layers of vegetables; and seasoning to taste. If you enjoy the results as much as we did, you’ll be satisfied indeed.